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Rejection of Subsidies for Coal and Nuclear Power Is a Win for Fact-Based Policymaking

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 05:00

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has repeatedly expressed concern over the past year about the reliability of our national electric power grid. On Sept. 28, 2017, Perry ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revise wholesale electricity market rules to help ensure "… a reliable, resilient electric grid powered by an 'all of the above' mix of generation resources." Perry's proposal included an implicit subsidy to owners of coal and nuclear power plants, to compensate them for keeping a 90-day fuel supply on-site in the event of a disruption to the grid.

On Jan. 8, FERC issued a statement, supported by all five commissioners, terminating Perry's proposal. The commissioners held that paying generators to store fuel on-site would only benefit some fuel types. And although coal and nuclear plants are retiring in large numbers, commissioners were not persuaded that this was due to unfair pricing in power markets.

In my view, FERC made an appropriate and well-grounded decision. The commission opted to gather more information and examine many possible approaches to improving reliability, instead of rubber-stamping a directive that had not been fully vetted. The commission's action is a good example of the kind of evidence-based policymaking that Americans should expect from the federal government.

What Makes the Power System Reliable?

There is no question that our electricity supply is changing rapidly. As of 2016, over one-third of US electricity generation at utility-scale facilities came from natural gas, followed by coal at 30 percent and nuclear power at nearly 20 percent. Renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower provide nearly 15 percent, up from just 8.5 percent in 2007.

Technology advances and cost decreases for renewables, particularly solar and wind, are the key factors driving their growth. Meanwhile, coal and nuclear plants, which are less economically competitive, are retiring at high rates.

As the eastern United States emerges from a record-setting deep freeze, we all can appreciate the importance of reliable energy supplies. Indeed, 2017 was a record-breaking year for weather and climate disasters, from hail and tornadoes to three major hurricanes striking US soil.

Many of these events disrupted vital power supplies. Notably, as of late December nearly half of Puerto Rico's electricity customers -- more than 600,000 people --  still lacked electric power in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Perry's proposal assumed that storing extra fuel on-site at generating plants would make the grid more resilient against disasters that could interrupt fuel deliveries. But resilience is not just a matter of having fuel close at hand.

Recognizing this, FERC's order included a new study of the resilience of the "bulk power system" -- the part of the electric grid that includes generation and transmission facilities, which are interconnected across regions. If this system is disrupted in any way, the impacts can be felt across wide areas.

The commission directed operators that manage regional power networks across the nation to submit information within 60 days on the resilience of the system, and to advise on whether FERC needs to take additional actions to improve it. This approach makes clear that the FERC commissioners want more evidence before they make any calls for actions such as subsidizing marginal fuel supplies.

Look at the Evidence

Whether FERC commissioners know it or not, their approach follows many recommendations set forth recently by a national Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. This panel was created in 2016 through legislation co-sponsored by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray of Washington. Its task was to examine how federal agencies use data, research and evaluation to build evidence, and to strengthen those efforts in order to make better policies.

"You always hear people in Washington talk about how much money was spent on a program, but you rarely hear whether it actually worked. That has to change," Ryan said, when the commission was established. "This panel will give us the tools to make better decisions and achieve better results."

In its final report issued on Sept. 7, 2017, the commission noted the importance of securing and making accessible data which can be used for effective policymaking. To most casual observers, this may seem straightforward. Why would you want to change a policy, which could affect many consumers and businesses, without first looking at the data and understanding all of the potential impacts of a change?

In reality, data can be disputed (think "fake" data), and policies can be motivated by political ideology. Policy choices could become detached from the evidence and fail to incorporate the pros and cons or seek consensus.

In this case, however, FERC's 5-0 decision shows that the commissioners agreed on their course, and it appears that policymaking based on evidence won the day. This decision had the potential to affect millions of electricity customers, as well as power markets and the environment. FERC deserves congratulations for putting evidence before action.

Ellen Hughes-Cromwick is a member of the National Association for Business Economics. She served as chief economist at the US Department of Commerce from November 2015 to January 2017.

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The Conversation

Categories: News

Can Hunters and Activists Team Up to Phase Out Lead Bullets?

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 05:00
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For centuries, hunters have relied on lead ammunition to quickly and humanely kill game, but with each shot they release a potentially lethal poison into the environment, threatening vulnerable animal populations.

While harmless to humans, the gut piles and carcasses hunters regularly leave behind often contain lead fragments, which can be deadly for scavengers who eat them, particularly raptors like bald and golden eagles, California condors and turkey vultures.

Consequently, a seemingly unlikely alliance between sportspeople and environmental activists has formed to tackle the issue by advocating for copper and other non-lead options and promoting hunters as environmental stewards. 

Hunter Russell Kuhlman, who serves as the Institute for Wildlife Studies' non-lead ammunition outreach coordinator for California, says, "I think there's a movement within the hunting community towards people wanting to get into the conservation and support of wildlife by hunting. [It's] not so much the good old boys' club of hanging out with your friends and shooting the biggest deer that you see."

In a time when species extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than if humans didn't exist, the recovery of bald eagle populations has been viewed as a successful conservation effort. But the majority of injured and sick eagles and birds brought into wildlife rehabilitation facilities around the country test positive for lead.

Although no federal agency keeps comprehensive track of wildlife lead poisoning, a documented 130 species, which include mammals, reptiles and amphibians, have been exposed or killed by ingesting the poisonous heavy metal.

Kuhlman says bald eagles' patriotic symbolism has brought attention to the issue -- including a recent high-profile eagle death in the nation's capital -- but that only in recent years has published research focused on lead ammunitions' environmental consequences. He says, in the past, many avian populations were too small to conduct comprehensive studies.

While lead remains the industry standard because it's accurate and affordable, the bullets are prone to shattering on impact. When fragments are ingested, they can not only be lethal, but also in lower doses, attack an animal's brain and nervous system.

Impaired flight from lead leaves birds susceptible to injury or death by obstructions like cars and power lines. Due to direct and indirect mortality, it's difficult to track lead deaths, especially because poisoned birds often hide while dying and can be scavenged by larger animals. Consequently, Kuhlman and others across the United States are raising awareness with environmental organizations, hunting associations and other invested parties.

Leland Brown, the non-lead hunting education coordinator with the Oregon Zoo, talks to sportspeople around the state, which is known for big game deer, elk and cougar hunting.

"We're trying to get some of the larger national groups engaged in this issue and understanding that this is about how as hunters we can continue to make sure we aren't having any unintended consequences," says Brown. "It's supposed to be a one shot, one kill. With a non-lead bullet, I can guarantee that."

Why Hunters Need to Be at the Forefront of the Non-Lead Effort

Although the majority of American hunters live in the East and Midwest, much of the non-lead movement is based in the western United States, where many of the most impacted populations live. The Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California is home to the largest wintering concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48. California condors, an endangered species, are also susceptible to lead poisoning, particularly in their namesake state and Arizona. 

In 2013, largely because of the damage to condors, California took the seemingly progressive charge of being the first state to ban lead bullets -- a ruling which is slowly going into affect, with complete prohibition to be implemented by July 2019. Although this seems like a move non-lead advocates would applaud, Kuhlman and Brown believe outlawing lead bullets is a step in the wrong direction.

They explain that ammunition bans are difficult to carry out because much hunting occurs on private land, and it's next to impossible for a state enforcer to know what kind of ammo is loaded in a firearm. On a larger scale, Kuhlman says, restrictions often pit hunters against environmentalists, without giving either party a fair say in crafting legislation.

As one of the Obama Administration's final acts, one day before Trump's inauguration, outgoing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Dan Ashe issued a ban on lead bullet use on federal lands. But this proved short-lived. Almost immediately after Ryan Zinke, Trump's pick for Interior secretary, was sworn in last March, he overturned the ban stating that "affected stakeholders," i.e. hunters, had not been considered.

"I think the best way to do that would be to involve states and hunting organizations and even bring in groups like the National Audubon Society and have them all sit down at a table together and discuss how to best implement that," says Kuhlman. "And in Dan Ashe's order there was none of that. It was kind of black and white."

In some cases, nationwide bans have proven effective: A 1991 prohibition of lead shot used for waterfowl hunting helped prevent "species threatening" die-offs of aquatic game birds. Many states have also outlawed or restricted lead fishing sinkers, jigs and other tackle, which have poisoned loons and other marine life, but lead use still abounds in upland hunting.

Gordon Batcheller, a retired former chief wildlife biologist for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation who is active in the non-lead movement, says it's important that government agencies "respond in a regulatory way when documented environmental problems are causing population level impacts."

While it's easy to view lead bullets as a partisan issue -- especially with groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) presenting it as an attack on gun rights -- Kuhlman, Brown and Batcheller agree that it's crucial for hunters to be at the forefront. On a larger scale, through non-lead advocacy, they see hunting returning to its roots as a way to gather sustainable, safe food sources and to connect with nature.  

And they have a large audience: Kuhlman and Brown individually give presentations to thousands of hunters every year. Batcheller also organizes workshops in New York and around the country. In addition to sharing research on the benefits of switching away from lead, they bring copper ammo and give hunters the opportunity to try alternatives.

"When you give someone the information, the majority of the time, they're smart enough to make the correct decision," says Kuhlman. "When you tell somebody that they have to do something and don't give them any information on the reasoning, they tend to be a little more hostile towards that ban, law or rule."

Brown, who previously worked for the Institute for Wildlife Studies in California, says he was a "punching bag" for hunters frustrated about the state ban. In Oregon, where some hunters fear similar legislation will eventually go into place, Brown sees more impact in encouraging hunters to make a voluntary switch.

A Grassroots Approach

Last summer, while working at a newspaper in the rural town of Klamath Falls, Ore., I attended Brown's talk at a local hunting association meeting. As an August lightening storm brewed outside, Brown and members of a wildlife rehabilitation center were met with open minds. While some hunters expressed concerns about their pastime becoming a "rich man's game" because of non-lead ammunition's higher price, they invited Brown back for an ammo demonstration.

While this grassroots approach will take time, the leaders of the non-lead movement have faith they can shift hunting practices that go back generations.

"We're dealing with a long-term issue that's going to take a long-term solution," Brown told me after the presentation. "We're going up against at least 100 years of tradition, so people need an opportunity to wrap their heads around it and come to the other side." 

Categories: News

Norman Finkelstein on the Many Lies Perpetuated About Gaza

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

Israel faces a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children. For more, we speak with Norman Finkelstein, author of the new book Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

A Federal Court Could Save Yellowstone's Grizzlies From the Trump Administration

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list. They want the grizzlies protected from trophy hunters while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their decision to delist the bears.

 Wolverine 9 5)A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)

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The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list -- a move that has paved the way for trophy hunts of the iconic animals.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are endangered and qualify for special federal protection. However, last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that carved out the bear population in the Yellowstone region and removed it from the endangered species list. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee who oversees the wildlife agency, personally announced the change in June 2017.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land outside of the national park system, and Wyoming officials are already making plans to propose grizzly bear hunts later this year.

"We're not anti-hunting, but we are certainly not excited about trophy hunting of grizzly bears in one of the last few places where they continue to exist," said Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the legal request, in an interview with Truthout.

"Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter." -- Timothy Preso, Earthjustice

Preso said some hunters in the region hunt elk and other large game for food, but grizzly bears are likely to be hunted as trophies. Yellowstone grizzlies are much more valuable as icons that draw tourists to the region and as "ambassadors of wildness," as Preso put it, than as trophies in a big-game hunter's private collection.

"Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter," Preso said.

A number of environmental groups and nine Native tribes sued Zinke and the Interior Department last year for removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a designation that has helped protect their habitat from logging and oil and gas development. Zinke is aggressively working to lift restrictions on development and fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

US Fish and Wildlife is now reviewing its decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies and is asking for public comment in light of a recent court ruling that returned federal protections to wolves in the Great Lakes region. Officials have left the rule delisting the bears in effect while they reconsider it, allowing state game wardens to move ahead with hunting plans.

Preso said the move by US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the decision without withdrawing it altogether is unusual. His coalition is asking a federal judge in Missoula to restore the endangered species protection to the Yellowstone grizzly bears while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their delisting decision, which they have promised to do by March 31.

Taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

"The Yellowstone region's grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision," Preso said in a statement.

The environmental coalition argues that US Fish and Wildlife's effort to review its own rulemaking is proof that the agency "did not complete its homework" before removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. For example, conservationists say officials must research how delisting could impact the total population of endangered grizzly bears across the West.

Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service. However, environmentalists warn that grizzlies across the rest of the lower 48 states have not done as well, and taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they clearly have not recovered.

"Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies' poor status overall is simply ludicrous," Greenwald said in a statement.

Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, but it is allowed outside the park boundaries, where wildlife is managed by state agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming officials are currently considering public input on a management plan for bears that would potentially include hunting within federal limits, according to local reports.

As predator populations slowly recover from deforestation and loss of habitat caused by human development, their territory increasingly butts up against ours. In 2016, wildlife managers captured 39 grizzly bears in Wyoming to resolve "conflicts" with humans, according to a state report. These "conflicts" typically involved bears killing livestock, eating pet food or foraging in someone's garbage. Twenty-two of the captured bears were killed, often for having a history of "conflicts" with people and their property.

Categories: News

"Victory for Democracy" as Court Rules Against North Carolina Gerrymandering

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

 LOGAN CYRUS / AFP / Getty Images)Voters cast their ballots inside the Hawthorne Recreation Center near uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, on election day November 8, 2016. (Photo: LOGAN CYRUS / AFP / Getty Images)

In a ruling hailed as a major and historic "victory for democracy," a federal court on Tuesday deemed North Carolina's 2016 congressional map unconstitutional on the grounds that it was drawn to discriminate against Democratic voters -- marking the first time a federal court has struck down a redistricting plan for partisan gerrymandering.

"Every American deserves representation in Washington, but the gerrymandered map struck down by the court today robbed much of the state of a representative voice in the nation's capital," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, one of the advocacy groups the legal challenge against North Carolina's Republican Party. "Partisan gerrymanders are quite simply undemocratic."

The three-judge panel's decision (pdf) on Tuesday may have been unique in its stand against extreme partisan redistricting, but it was not the first time North Carolina's Republican-drawn congressional map has been struck down for violating the constitutional rights of voters. As Prema Levy of Mother Jones points out, "the state's previous map was deemed illegal for being racially gerrymandered in 2016" -- years after the map allowed the GOP to take a vast majority of the state's House seats.

Following the 2016 ruling, North Carolina Republicans explicitly looked to structure the state's congressional map to give themselves a "partisan advantage" -- resulting in what the Brennan Center for Justice called "one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade."

North Carolina voters have scored a big victory against one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade. https://t.co/Xl3uhCRbBY

-- Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) January 10, 2018

"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law," Rep. David Lewis (R-N.C.), chairman of the state House's Redistricting Committee, declared during a 2016 meeting. "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country."

The North Carolina district court's determination on Tuesday that extreme partisan gerrymandering is, in fact, unconstitutional -- violating the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution -- is likely to gain national significance in the coming months, as the Supreme Court is currently considering two similar partisan gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland.

This decision is so thorough. It tells the story of how unfettered partisan gerrymandering hijacked democracy in North Carolina. The decision is long but worth the read. https://t.co/H0RfzOAdcw https://t.co/ZidOKzAwFa

-- Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 10, 2018

North Carolina Republicans are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court to put the ruling on hold until the other two cases are decided -- a delay that would allow the current map to remain in place through the 2018 midterm elections.

J. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science at Catawba College, told the New York Timesthat if Tuesday's ruling is upheld, it "gives hope to Democrats" looking to wrest control of the state's legislature from the GOP.

"I can imagine the Republicans being furious, but they have to see political reality, and it's not just in the next two weeks: It's come November," Bitzer concluded.

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Categories: News

HR Has Never Been on the Side of Workers. #MeToo Is More Proof

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00
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After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself. 

And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to "forget about it and laugh it off."

Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber's human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.

As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries' cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management -- it must be defeated by worker power.

Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company -- and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.

"Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued," author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. "While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience -- after a lifetime in the labor movement -- is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country."

As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm.

"Treating Labor as a Commodity"

According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers "prevent, correct and discipline behavior" that qualifies as "unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind."

Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.

Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company's "Sociological Department," established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:

The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees' homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers' families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.

"They really said they were going to govern workers' lives," says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at "Americanizing European immigrants."

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions -- for example, brightening and dimming lights -- had on workers' productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them -- that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of "human relations." This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.

But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality. "How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That's the grounding of human resources," he says.

"Where Union Busters Set Up Camp"

Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as "a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent."

"These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees," emphasizes Cappelli. "These are private organizations."

With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. "The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process," explains Anderson. "You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability."

Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company's security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials -- and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official "interrogated" an employee about "the employee's Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees."

As McAlevey puts it, "The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp -- the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns."

Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn't fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute "had no real HR when abuses occurred" (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.)

While noting that "such departments are no panacea," Chávez argues that "the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders."

And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "found that 75 percent of US workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."

Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers -- and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.

There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.

From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, "What changes is if you have a union."

Categories: News

As ICC Considers Probing Israel for War Crimes, US Moves to Defund UN Palestine Refugee Agency

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump's threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

The Labor Movement Is Fighting Back Against Trump's Efforts to Remove Immigrant Protections

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

Congress has no choice but to act to preserve the temporary protected status of El Salvadorans and other immigrants, because somebody is going to pay the price for this administration's actions in upcoming elections, says Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ. The labor movement will be putting the pressure on Congress.

 KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images)A six years old girl from El Salvador holds a placard during a rally around Trump Tower in support of immigrants workers on April 08, 2017, in New York. (Photo: KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 105th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Jaime Contreras, the vice president of SEIU 32BJ. Contreras discusses the Trump administration's latest attack on El Salvadoran immigrants with temporary protected status in the US and how the SEIU will fight back.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking today about the Trump administration's latest attack on immigrants. To start off with, tell us a little bit about this latest revocation of temporary protected status (TPS). Who does this apply to? What is the justification the administration is giving for doing this?

Jaime Contreras: First of all, I think it is unfortunate that TPS for close to 200,000 Salvadoran legal workers in the country is going to end by September 2019. It is un-American. It is inhumane. The excuse the administration gave for doing this is, "Well, you know, there hasn't been an earthquake in El Salvador lately or a natural disaster and you no longer have a civil war," but the reality is ... I have been to El Salvador not too long ago; things for Salvadorans [are still bad], there is still dire poverty in El Salvador. There is gang violence in El Salvador.

Sending 200,000 workers who have done everything right by the law, paying their taxes, contributing to the economy, who have ... around another 200,000 US-born children. What is going to happen to those kids and these folks? It is really sending them back to misery, and some of them may even face death when they get back. That, to me, is not the right thing to do. I came here in 1988 during the civil war in El Salvador at the age of 13. My parents brought me here. I had no say in that decision. Since then, I have served in the United States military. I have become a US citizen. I own a house. I work every day. To me, it is offensive as a former military person that this administration has taken this stance with immigrants who are no different than me.

Can you explain a little bit more about what temporary protected status is for people who aren't familiar with this?

Temporary protected status is given to people who are already in the United States undocumented, fleeing some sort of a natural disaster, a civil war or conflict in their homeland. It is given to those people as a way to protect them to allow them to work legally in the United States, [and] live without fear of deportation. That is what temporary protected status is. It has been given to over 10 countries, including Nicaragua -- which was also eliminated, but it is a really small number of 2,500 people -- Honduras, Haiti, Sudan and a bunch of other countries who have turmoil in their land. So, those people have temporary protected status and all of those people are about to lose it. The largest recipient of TPS is really Salvadorans.

This administration already eliminated TPS for Haiti and Nicaragua and Sudan. Now this is the fourth country. This goes along with revoking DACA protections. The one thing this administration seems to be keeping its promises on, unfortunately, seems to be taking protections away from immigrants.

Yes. To me, this didn't come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats, it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats -- it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and ... do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.

You asked earlier, "What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?" SEIU and the rest of the labor movement -- along with churches, community organizations, even the business community ... the Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren't heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here.... You can't uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

You mentioned that the Democrats have not done what they promised on this front. Do you think that Trump's really open attacks will help push the Democratic Party to act on this front?

Well, you know, I think the Democratic Party and the Republicans, frankly, have no choice but to act, because there is always the next election. We have elections this year in the midterm and we have elections in 2020. Somebody is going to have to pay the price because of the actions of this administration. It is unfortunate that these people who have, every 18 months for the last 20 or so years, been going to get their background checks done, their fingerprints done.... They have done everything they have been asked to do. These people should have been given the opportunity to become US citizens a long time ago.

But because we have a broken immigration system, this was not done and the only way forward is really for Congress to fix our broken immigration system once and for all. And not only fix it for DACA and TPS recipients, but really fix it for all the 11+ million people here who are undocumented, who are working every day two and three jobs to really make this country what it is, which is a country of immigrants and a country that is successful because of the work of immigrants and other communities.

Tell us a little bit about what your union has been doing in the last year. [SEIU] 32BJ, obviously, has a lot of members who are immigrants and from various places and with various kinds of statuses. Talk a little bit about what the union has done this year, fighting this administration on immigration.

We have been active locally on passing sanctuary cities in jurisdictions where we can, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. We have been helping elect pro-immigrant/pro-worker politicians. We have been lobbying Congress. We have been creating coalitions to help counter-attack the attacks of this administration against immigrants. We are going to continue to do all of those things.

For SEIU, we have 100,000 Salvadorans or more organized in SEIU. Most people estimate that one in five Salvadorans have TPS, which means at least 20,000 of our members will be affected negatively by the actions of this administration. It is incumbent upon us [not only] as SEIU and 32BJ, but as the labor movement, to continue to pressure these politicians to do the right thing.

Is there anything that you can do in terms of job contracts, in the workplace on this front?

We are going to be informing our members throughout the union about what some of the options are. Obviously, we are encouraging all the TPS recipients to renew their TPS. They do have 18 more months after March to continue to work here legally, but they have to renew. A lot of TPS recipients are eligible for political asylum. Some of them could be petitioned by their employer. Some of them could be petitioned by their children, if they have children that are over 18. So, we are going to be finding out all the things that are available currently for this population and help get the word out and help get them connected to people who will responsibly help them get through this phase. Hopefully, a good chunk of those people will be able to adjust their status by doing some of the things.

How can people keep up with you and with the union's work?

They can always go to our website, which is www.SEIU32BJ.org or they can go to www.SEIU.org. There is a lot of awesome information on those websites about what people can do. Obviously, we can always be available via phone. Our numbers for people to call if they have questions is (202) 387-3211, and there will be more information given to the community as we find out more what this really means.

It is what we do for a living. I wouldn't have another job. Our community needs as much help as they can get, and we are going to try to give them as much help as we can give them.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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Categories: News

Compromise

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

Categories: News

Iran's Protests Take Place Against a Backdrop of Inequality

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

As 2017 came to a close, a groundswell of Iranian protesters captured international attention. The demonstrators' slogans questioned everything from the price of eggs to the legitimacy of the highest levels of government, as viewers from around the world sought to pin down the precise motivations for their displeasure. At this time, the protesters may offer more questions than answers. Reports are building conflicting narratives as to who the protesters are, what brought them into the streets, and what they hope to accomplish.

Though there may be cacophony of analyses -- many of them surely to be discredited in coming days and weeks -- some facts still remain undisputed. Primarily among them: the protests are taking place against a backdrop of economic frustration and inequality within Iran.

Economic concerns have been simmering for some time. As Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian noted in the New York Times, inequality has become front and center as the wealthy display their opulence with luxury cars in city streets, while the rest of the country struggles. The economy was a focal point in the country's May 2017 elections. President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the nuclear deal, promising it would bring more money into the country. But while Iran's economy grew -- by 13.4 percent in 2016 -- it didn't necessarily translate into prospects for Iranians. Unemployment rose to 12.6 percent that same year, a number that's even higher for Iranian youth.

The discrepancy between the promise and reality of the nuclear deal hasn't been lost on the country's residents. In May of 2015, when hopes for the agreement were high, more than half of Iranians felt the economy was at least somewhat good. But by 2017, nearly two thirds called the country's economic situation bad, one poll found. And they're not optimistic about the future -- fifty percent of people said they thought the economy was getting even worse.

Just as with the protests, analysts will point fingers in a variety of directions as to the cause of the country's economic ills. Certainly, years of crippling international sanctions have played a role. And while the nuclear deal left the door open for more economic opportunities, constant uncertainty over the future of the agreement has left banks and businesses skeptical.

But regardless of the causes, the protests signal that Iran's citizens may disagree with the government on next steps. One spark behind the recent demonstrations? President Rouhani's conservative 2018 budget, released even as minor protests took place around the country over lost jobs and missing wages.

One particular point of ire is the budget cut to the country's popular cash transfer program. As economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes in one analysis, the program -- which gave Iranians a small monthly stipend -- played a role in stemming poverty rates, especially in the country's rural areas, helping to bridge inequality between Tehran and the rest of the country. Salehi-Isfahani also points out that high inflation already cut the value of the transfers to less than a third of their original value. To top off that indignity, the government has decided to limit the number of people eligible for the program.

While the international community buzzes about the meaning behind the protests, at least one group is standing behind Rouhani's austerity budget. The IMF released a consultation report on Iran in December, shortly before the protests took off, in which they said revisions to the cash transfer program, among other measures, would lead to "much needed fiscal space." In a memo, Peter Bakvis, who directs the Washington, DC office of the International Trade Union Confederation, questioned this move. "It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF's mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country's economic and social policies." Though the IMF does not lend to Iran, their recommendation still carries a good deal of weight.

The question to be asked: will Iran listen to groups like the IMF or the voice of its people? The government says the demonstrations have died down. But no matter the face of Iran's protesters or the future of their movement, this much is clear: the country needs to deal with inequality, or the frustration will continue to simmer.

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Categories: News

Dying From Despair, but No Help From Trump

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

America is in the throes of a deep and pervasive social crisis -- and it's killing people at an alarming rate.

That's the takeaway from the announcement in December that, for a second year in a row, average life expectancy in the US has declined.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years on average -- a decline of 0.1 year for 2016 over the figures from 2015, which also represented a drop.

That might not sound like a lot, but any decrease in life expectancy is a rare occurrence in a developed nation. In this case, it's the direct result of the opioid crisis that continues to ravage large swathes of the country.

To put it in perspective, the last time there was a decline in life expectancy in the US was in 1993 at the height of the AIDS crisis -- and the last time there were two years of decline was 1962-63 as a result of a major flu epidemic.

Worse, 2017 is on track to produce yet another decline in life expectancy, according to the National Center for Health Statistics' Bob Anderson. "We have data for almost half of 2017 at this point. It's still quite provisional, but it suggests that we're in for another increase" in drug-related deaths, Anderson told CNN. "If we're not careful, we could end up with declining life expectancy for three years in a row, which we haven't seen since the Spanish flu 100 years ago."

Actually, seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US -- including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and influenza -- declined in 2016. But that was more than offset by a rise in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, suicide and "unintentional injuries" -- a category that includes drug overdose deaths.

According to the Washington Post, "More than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses alone in 2016, a 28 percent increase over 2015. When deaths from drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepines are included, the overall increase was 21 percent."

Overall, noted the Post, "Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled from the previous year. Heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths also rose, but more modestly."

The picture is especially bleak among Millenials. The statistics show that from 2014 to 2016, the death rate for 25-34 year olds jumped by 19 percent, from 108 per 100,000 to 129 per 100,000.

***

The crisis is hitting particularly hard in Rust Belt areas, where a decades-long decline in manufacturing has decimated formerly solid working-class communities, leaving Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio with highest rates of overdose deaths in the country. Morgues in many of the hardest-hit counties continue to run short on space to hold the bodies of the dead. From mid-2016 to mid-2017 in West Virginia, the state spent $1 million just to transport bodies to and from morgues.

In the town of Petersburg (population: 2,500) one pharmacy allegedly sold more than 1.8 million doses of opioids that had no medical purpose.

"It was like passing out candy on Halloween," Breanne McUlty, a recovering addict from Petersburg, told the Washington Examiner. "I can't say there isn't one person I know who hasn't been strung out...I'm the only person in my family right now who hasn't had an active addiction."

It's important to note, however, that it isn't only white Rust Belt communities that are suffering. Taking a closer look at the 2016 figures, the New York Times reported in late December that deaths related to opioids spiked by a whopping 41 percent in Black urban communities, especially among older Black men who are dying from heroin laced with fentanyl.

This, the Times wrote, "suggests that the common perception of the epidemic as an almost entirely white problem rooted in overprescription of painkillers is no longer accurate, as fentanyl, often stealthily, invades broader swaths of the country and its population."

In Washington, DC, for example, drug deaths doubled in a single year -- and are now "on par with those in Ohio and New Hampshire."

***

There is an urgent need for a drastic response from the government including addiction and treatment services, jobs programs, medication and other resources.

For months, public health officials have been begging the Trump administration to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, which could have made a large amount of funding available. Instead, in October, Trump declared it a "public health emergency" and devoted few additional resources.

As if to underline the administration's lack of seriousness in approaching the opioid crisis, Trump appointed not an expert or a scientist, but his former campaign manager and current White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to lead White House efforts to combat the crisis.

Conway, who has zero experience with anything related to addiction or addiction policy, once told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the White House failed to increase funding for the opioid crisis because what addicts really need is "a four-letter word called 'will.'"

Such comments, said Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, are a "death sentence for addicts."

Hoping to score cheap political points, Trump announced in late November that he would be donating his $100,000 third-quarter presidential salary to the Department of Health and Human Services. But the paltry amount will do next to nothing to stem the crisis -- especially when his administration is cutting funding in other ways.

After all, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the $190 billion over 10 years that public health advocates like Harvard University health economics professor Dr. Richard Frank say will be needed to help stem the crisis. And given that Medicaid currently covers some 34 percent of the estimated 2.66 million Americans with an opiate-use disorder, the crisis will deepen if Republican plans to further gut government health-care programs come to fruition.

In fact, as the Huffington Post reported in late October, Trump's budget calls for cutting funding for the opioid crisis by $97 million -- including a massive cut to the budget of the National Institutes of Health:

The president could have tied other actions to his public health emergency declaration but did not, said Regina LaBelle, former chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama administration.

"Such actions could have included building a naloxone stockpile, addressing regulatory barriers to mobile methadone vans, not to mention including more funding to address the epidemic," LaBelle said in a statement. "At a time when only 20 percent of people with opioid use disorders get needed treatment, we need to act with urgency."

Instead of "urgency," America was treated to Trump lecturing the media about "an idea that I had" for kids to say no drugs -- a nod to the totally ineffective "just say no" campaign of the 1980s, which never showed a direct connection to reducing drug use.

"If we can teach young people -- and people, generally -- not to start," Trump said. "it's really, really easy not to take them."

Truly, words of wisdom from a "stable genius."

***

The decline in US life expectancy is a kind of "canary in a coal mine" -- a troubling indication of the degree to which whole sections of US workers are in living in despair under a system that is designed not to meet their needs.

Princeton University economist Anne Case recently told NPR that opioid deaths, along with the uptick in suicides and deaths from alcohol, are all "signs that something is really wrong, and whatever it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide."

But while much of the media attention has focused on the spike in opioid addiction among whites, researchers are pointing out that working class and poor Blacks -- who already suffer higher rates of disease and mortality as a result of preventable causes often related to poverty and institutional racism -- are also suffering.

"Rates of mortality for African Americans have risen after a fairly long period of decline, and that is concerning and disturbing and it may reflect a wider array of harms arising from drug issues," Jonathan Skinner, a Dartmouth College economic professor, told NPR.

In general, there has been a systematic failure of the government at the local, state and federal levels in all communities to provide the resources that people deserve.

While the Trump administration is spending its time policing scientists at the Centers for Disease Control over their use of words and phrases like "evidence-based" and "vunerable," millions of Americans are needlessly suffering and communities are being ripped apart by a crisis with no end in sight -- and no solutions on offer.

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Categories: News

Free the People: The New Year's Victory You Didn't Hear About

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

 Wanmongkhol / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Photo: Wanmongkhol / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

By all counts, 2017 was a bleak year, but a New Year's Eve Twitter campaign started by prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba has given new impetus to efforts to end money bond within the US criminal legal system. #FreeThePeople Day raised $234,000 for 14 community bail funds to help the nearly half a million people being held in jail solely for lacking bail money.

 Wanmongkhol / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Photo: Wanmongkhol / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

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We squared off with authoritarianism, and we exhausted ourselves. That was the story of 2017. We fought, but things got dark, and we got tired. Then, in December, Republicans in Congress united around an idea that we lacked the power to stop -- the Republican tax scam. It was an ugly way to round out a year of struggle and loss, but it's worth noting that on the last day of 2017, something amazing happened.

At the year's end, organizer and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba was as tired as anyone. But she had an idea. "I fired off a tweet suggesting that I was renaming New Year's Eve, #FreeThePeople Day and half-jokingly said that everyone should donate the cost of one drink to a community bail fund," she told me.

Bail funds are mostly grassroots projects that post bail for prisoners who are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to post bail for themselves. Once the defendant's case is adjudicated, the bail (minus any court fees) is generally returned to the revolving fund so that it can be used to post bond for other prisoners.

Approximately 11 million people cycle through US jails each year. At any given time, almost 450,000 people are being held pretrial in local jails, and most of those are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to post bond. Those who are held on money bond in pretrial incarceration have not been found guilty of a crime, and in fact have been cleared for release: If they had money, they could go home. They are, in effect, in jail for being poor.

When Kaba suggested the idea of #FreeThePeople Day, a few of her Twitter followers responded enthusiastically, so she set about creating a blog post listing some of the bail funds and efforts that she was aware of, and invited others to join the fundraiser on Twitter on New Year's Eve. 

Kaba's whimsical idea created an opportunity to rally some assistance for the grassroots organizations doing bail work. "Quite honestly, I had no idea whether anyone would participate," says Kaba, "but I committed to spending the next day fundraising for the community bail funds."

In love with the idea, I made the same commitment, and by morning, we had a stash of information and resources for people to share.

"With some help from friends," Kaba says, "I spent New Year's Eve sharing facts and other information about the unfairness of pretrial detention and bail, asking people to share their favorite freedom songs, and uplifting donation tweets."

Hundreds of people joined the effort, and tweets using the hashtag #FreeThePeople reached over 2 million users. Out of the fourteen bail funds on the list, three of them -- Massachusetts Bail Fund, National Bail Out and Brooklyn Community Bail Fund -- had matching grants in effect.

"By the end of New Year's Eve, we had raised $234,000 (excluding matching funds) for at least 14 community bail funds and efforts," says Kaba. "It was astounding and also inspiring."

Almost a quarter of a million dollars were raised for bail funds in just one day. How did this happen? To answer that, we have to look at the momentum of the movement to end money bond and pretrial incarceration.

A Growing Movement

"The enormous success of #FreeThePeople is a reflection of a growing awareness of the injustice of money bail and pretrial incarceration," says Sharlyn Grace, an attorney and co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which raised $35,000 during the #FreeThePeople campaign on New Year's Eve. "Revolving bail funds around the country have also shown over and over again that money bail doesn't work, but that supporting our neighbors to get free does."

In Chicago, where Grace works and organizes, the fight against money bail has seen some major victories. In July 2017, in response to a lawsuit, a judge issued a new local rule requiring that all money bails in Cook County be affordable. According to Grace, "The rule states that it is 'intended to ensure no defendant is held in custody prior to trial solely because the defendant cannot afford to post bail,' and there are 1,500 fewer people in Cook County Jail now than when the order went into effect in September!"

Not all judges have complied with the Chicago rule, and thousands of pretrial prisoners remain in Cook County Jail whose bails were set prior to the July ruling. But Grace says that she and her co-organizers will continue following up to track compliance and support as many people as possible.

Since May, the National Bail Out collective has posted bond for over 200 people, providing some with short-term housing, healthcare, transportation, drug treatment and mental health services. "In the tradition of our enslaved Black ancestors, who used their collective resources to purchase each other's freedom before slavery was abolished, until we abolish bail and mass incarceration, we will free ourselves," the group pledges on its website.

Southerners on New Ground (SONG) bailed out over 60 Black mothers and caregivers across the South for Mother's Day.

Still, criminalization carries a heavy stigma, and the work has not come easy. The Massachusetts Bail Fund almost shut down in August, due to a lack of funds. But the movement rallied on social media, and donations rolled in. "A lot of nasty things are said on Twitter," says Atara Rich-Shea, the director of operations for the Massachusetts Bail Fund, "but in this instance, Twitter literally saved our bail fund. We raised $50,000 in a week through Twitter support." 

Several months later, the Massachusetts Bail Fund also benefited from #FreeThePeople, bringing in $26,060 in donations from 208 people in one day. "It was overwhelming to check our Twitter mentions and our email and see the donations come in.... We are such a small bail fund -- all volunteers, and the bails we pay are relatively low; $500 or less plus a $40 fee for each bail," Rich-Shea explains. "$26,000 frees nearly 50 people."

Bail funds have played an important role in supporting people who've been criminalized for defending their own lives and bodies. The pretrial release of Naomi Freeman in Chicago was secured through a collaboration between the Chicago Community Bond Fund and other social justice groups in Chicago -- a process that ranged from grant-writing to direct action. Organizer Holly Krig, of Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, believes that a commitment to post bond for abuse survivor Paris Knox helped expedite a plea deal that Knox was offered last week. "Paris will now be home in a matter of weeks, though she faced the possibility of 27 more years inside."

Krig notes that, like all defendants, survivors stand a better chance in court if they are released pretrial. "The longer the duration of pretrial incarceration," says Krig, "the greater the chances of a conviction with a longer sentence. We not only compound harm to survivors by incarcerating them, but the state further punishes survivors who've survived longer durations of that incarceration."

Krig, like Rich-Shea, Grace and Kaba, believes that the abolition of money bail, and ultimately, an end to pretrial incarceration, are the larger goals of the movement. With philanthropic billionaires having taken an interest in the idea of bond funds, there is a danger that people will begin to see bond funds as a matter of charity, rather than change. But groups like the Chicago Community Bond Fund have strived to set a different standard, taking on advocacy that tackles the root issue: the very existence of a system that cages people for being poor. And as Rich-Shea reminds us, "Posting bail, freeing the people, is essential work, not just because it's critical harm reduction, but because the lessons we learn, the coalitions we built, and the people who are free, all inform and support the work towards the larger goal of ending pretrial supervision once and for all."

Mariame Kaba also sees these efforts as part of an abolitionist movement praxis. "The funds that received these donations aren't bailing people out for charity, but because they are also working to end money bond altogether," Kaba says. "We engaged thousands of people through this effort: many donated but many more are now more educated about the unfairness of bail and pretrial detention."

Bails and circumstances vary from city to city, but with $234,000 spread across 14 bail funds, #FreeThePeople will be emptying a lot of cages in 2018. 

Categories: News

HR Has Never Been on the Side of Workers. #MeToo Is More Proof

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00
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After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself. 

And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to "forget about it and laugh it off."

Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber's human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.

As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries' cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management -- it must be defeated by worker power.

Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company -- and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.

"Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued," author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. "While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience -- after a lifetime in the labor movement -- is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country."

As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm.

"Treating Labor as a Commodity"

According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers "prevent, correct and discipline behavior" that qualifies as "unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind."

Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.

Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company's "Sociological Department," established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:

The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees' homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers' families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.

"They really said they were going to govern workers' lives," says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at "Americanizing European immigrants."

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions -- for example, brightening and dimming lights -- had on workers' productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them -- that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of "human relations." This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.

But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality. "How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That's the grounding of human resources," he says.

"Where Union Busters Set Up Camp"

Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as "a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent."

"These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees," emphasizes Cappelli. "These are private organizations."

With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. "The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process," explains Anderson. "You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability."

Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company's security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials -- and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official "interrogated" an employee about "the employee's Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees."

As McAlevey puts it, "The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp -- the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns."

Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn't fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute "had no real HR when abuses occurred" (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.)

While noting that "such departments are no panacea," Chávez argues that "the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders."

And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "found that 75 percent of US workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."

Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers -- and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.

There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.

From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, "What changes is if you have a union."

Categories: News

Concerned Citizens in Cancer Alley Vow to Ramp Up Battle Against Industrial Pollution in 2018

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 05:00

This past year in Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish, a small group of residents began organizing their community to compel the state to protect them against an invisible menace: the air they breathe. In 2018, the burgeoning group plans to get political and broaden its reach by banding together with similar groups in the region.

 Julie Dermansky)Robert Taylor next to one of the EPA air monitoring sites in LaPlace, Louisiana. (All Photos: Julie Dermansky)

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This past year in Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish, a small group of residents began organizing their community to compel the state to protect them against an invisible menace: the air they breathe. Their parish, the Louisiana equivalent of a county, is situated in what's known as Cancer Alley, an industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that hosts more than 100 petrochemical factories.

At the helm of the battle is the Concerned Citizens of St. John, a diverse group of parish residents pushing back against the area's historically bad -- and worsening -- industrial pollution. "One thing we all have in common is a desire for clean air," the group's founder, Robert Taylor, told me. Over the next year, the burgeoning group plans to get political and broaden its reach by banding together with similar groups in the region.

Taylor, a 76-year-old retired general contractor, recently spoke to me about the group from California, where he spent Christmas with his wife, who is recuperating from a stroke. Their extended family insisted Taylor keep his wife away from the Louisiana parish's polluted air.

Robert Taylor at a Concerned Citizens of St. John meeting at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27.Robert Taylor at a Concerned Citizens of St. John meeting at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27.

Lydia Gerard, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, holding up a new sign at their public meeting on August 15.Lydia Gerard, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, holding up a new sign at their public meeting on August 15.

Coming Together for Cleaner Air

Taylor formed the Concerned Citizens of St. John after he and others learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined residents in their area were at higher risk of cancer than anywhere else in the country. The EPA's latest National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks, revealed that residents in six parish census tracts closest to the Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times higher than the national average.

Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace, Louisiana.Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace, Louisiana.

Denka's LaPlace factory, formerly owned by DuPont, emits chloroprene and 28 other chemicals used to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene. In 2010 the EPA reclassified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen, but this fact only came to the community's attention at the end of 2016. 

The Concerned Citizens of St. John group holds bi-weekly public meetings at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in the town of Reserve. At meetings throughout 2017, Wilma Subra, a technical advisor to the environmental advocacy group Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), reviewed the results of EPA air monitoring from six sites in the parish, which she will continue this year.

Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, at a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27, 2017.Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, at a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27, 2017.

After the EPA's concerns became public, Denka agreed to cut harmful emissions by up to 85 percent. Yet a year after air monitoring began, pollution levels were actually worse at five of the six sites. And that was despite the plant making costly improvements due to an agreement with regulators, according to CNN. On December 19, at the group's last meeting of 2017, Subra went over the latest EPA data: Chloroprene emissions are, at times, still well above EPA-recommended standards.

As I documented Concerned Citizens throughout 2017 for DeSmog, I watched it grow into an advocacy force to be reckoned with -- a unity and power they acknowledged at a Christmas celebration following their last meeting.

"The group had some growing pains over the course of the year, but we are now stronger than ever," Taylor told me. "Our group can't be influenced by anyone, which makes us dangerous."

Pastor Lionel Murphy Jr. at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve. Pastor Murphy made the church available as a meeting place for the Concerned Citizens of St. John. The church has been broken in to three times since the meetings began.Pastor Lionel Murphy Jr. at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve. Pastor Murphy made the church available as a meeting place for the Concerned Citizens of St. John. The church has been broken in to three times since the meetings began.

Robert Taylor, playing organ at a service held at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, where the Concerned Citizens of St. John holds most of its meetings.Robert Taylor, playing organ at a service held at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, where the Concerned Citizens of St. John holds most of its meetings.

Shondrell Perrilloux holding a sign up as she takes the podium at a parish council meeting.Shondrell Perrilloux holding a sign up as she takes the podium at a parish council meeting.

All Politics Is Local

In 2018 Concerned Citizens plans to find and back candidates to run for local offices in order to replace the politicians who brushed off their concerns in 2017. "Block by block, precinct by precinct, we are planning to choose candidates who will represent our interests over the industry's," Taylor said.

Geraldine Watkins (center), shown here at the November 29, 2017 parish council meeting, lives in LaPlace, less than a half mile from Denka's plant.Geraldine Watkins (center), shown here at the November 29, 2017 parish council meeting, lives in LaPlace, less than a half mile from Denka's plant.

Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace is close to the 5th Ward Elementary School and residents' homes in Reserve and LaPlace, Louisiana. Flight made possible by SouthWings.Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace is close to the 5th Ward Elementary School and residents' homes in Reserve and LaPlace, Louisiana. Flight made possible by SouthWings.

Geraldine Watkins, a 76-year-old great grandmother and member of Concerned Citizens, is considering running for office herself. Protecting the children who are forced to breathe the parish's toxic air has become her life's mission. 

She has no intention of giving up the fight for clean air until Denka adheres to the EPA's recommended emission standard of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, a figure printed on the red t-shirts the group wears.

Members of Concerned Citizens of St. John at a parish council meeting in LaPlace, Louisiana, on March 28 wearing red t-shirts printed with Only 0.2 will do, emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions should not exceed the EPA's recommendation.Members of Concerned Citizens of St. John at a parish council meeting in LaPlace, Louisiana, on March 28 wearing red t-shirts printed with "Only 0.2 will do," emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions should not exceed the EPA's recommendation.

The EPA emissions limits are determined with the goal of keeping the cancer risk from air pollution to less than one in every million people. When that goal is not achievable, the agency sets standards based on the "upper limit of acceptability," which is a risk of 100 in a million people. That figure is the basis for the EPA's 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter standard in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown before addressing the parish council on November 14.Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown before addressing the parish council on November 14.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of St. John pack the November 14 parish council meeting the night LDEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown updated the council, but the group members were not given a chance to ask him questions.Members of the Concerned Citizens of St. John pack the November 14 parish council meeting the night LDEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown updated the council, but the group members were not given a chance to ask him questions.

Louisiana's state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry at the November 14, 2017 parish council meeting, saying there is no health emergency in the parish. At a December 2016 council meeting, however, he acknowledged that no one should have to breathe chloroprene.Louisiana's state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry at the November 14, 2017 parish council meeting, saying there is no health emergency in the parish. At a December 2016 council meeting, however, he acknowledged that "no one should have to breathe chloroprene."

Denka and Dr. Chuck Brown, the state's top environmental regulator, have challenged the EPA's findings. Watkins and the other members of Concerned Citizens say they have no reason to believe the EPA got it wrong. 

Though the EPA declined to comment when I asked if there were any problems with its findings on chloroprene, citing it as an open case, CNN reported that an EPA spokesperson said the science behind the agency's findings was solid.

"We appreciate that the EPA warned us about the chloroprene," Watkins told me, but it is clear to her that she and other parish residents "are mere guinea pigs in the scheme of things. The lack of action by the government since the EPA's findings were released makes it complicit in allowing Denka and DuPont to poison us."

In the new year, in addition to entering local politics, the Concerned Citizens of St. John also plan to form an alliance with other citizens groups in Cancer Alley which are also standing up to pollution. 

"I'm not just fighting for myself. I'm fighting for everyone in the parish, especially the children," Watkins said.

The Handys, residents of LaPlace who live across from Denka's plant. George Handy, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, purchased the house before learning about the local chloroprene emissions.The Handys, residents of LaPlace who live across from Denka's plant. George Handy, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, purchased the house before learning about the local chloroprene emissions.

Councilmember Larry Sorapuru, the only councilmember in St. John the Baptist Parish who the concerned citizen group feels is standing up for them, speaking at a town hall meeting on pollution in LaPlace on November 26.Councilmember Larry Sorapuru, the only councilmember in St. John the Baptist Parish who the concerned citizen group feels is standing up for them, speaking at a town hall meeting on pollution in LaPlace on November 26.

Mary Hampton, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, listening to the results of the latest air monitoring test at a group meeting on December 18.Mary Hampton, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, listening to the results of the latest air monitoring test at a group meeting on December 18.

Categories: News

"It's a Nightmare for Us": Up to 250,000 Salvadorans Face Deportation After Trump TPS Decision

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 15:57

President Trump is meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House today over his offer to protect the nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers in exchange for funding to build a border wall. The meeting comes one day after the Trump administration announced it is ending the temporary protected status for as many as 250,000 Salvadorans who have been living in US since 2001. The temporary protected status, known as TPS, had given the Salvadorans legal permission to live and work in the United States. It was enacted in 2001 after a devastating pair of earthquakes hit El Salvador. The Trump administration has already said it will end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants living in the United States. For more, we speak with a Stony Brook University student named Rodman, who is a member of Make the Road New York. He is a US citizen whose parents are Salvadoran TPS recipients. He asked us not to use his last name to protect his family. We also speak with Anu Joshi, immigration policy director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Digging In: Land Rights, Food Sovereignty and a Food Truck in Detroit

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 15:22

Meiko Krishok, a young entrepreneur running a popular eatery in Detroit is navigating the challenges of doing business and serving healthy food in a city experiencing population decline, land misappropriation and infrastructure failure. Luckily, Krishok's business ethics and enduring patience offer a glimmer of hope to young, local up-and-comers. So does her food.

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The specter of decades of population decline -- empty fields where neighborhoods used to thrive persist – is an internationally recognizable symbol of Detroit, Michigan. Emptiness also serves as a key talking point, central to positioning the city as a clean slate -- sheer potential for entrepreneurs and investors from elsewhere, available to any of the highest bidders. But empty fields are not always what they appear. In fact, in Detroit, they often come with a nearly impenetrable complex of restrictions, rules and regulations that result in committed, invested locals being unable to access land that entrepreneurs and investors seem to come by so easily.

"Digging In" is part of our investigative comics journalism series on barriers to water, housing and land access in southeastern Michigan and the first installment in our graphic miniseries on land. We talk to caterer Meiko Krishok, whose popular North Corktown eatery navigates a wide array of concerns facing many young entrepreneurs in this city, as well as the other cities across the nation experiencing population decline, land misappropriation and infrastructure failure. Luckily, Krishok's business ethics and enduring patience offer a glimmer of hope to young, local up-and-comers. So does her food. But while we can introduce you to Krishok and show you around on a warm summer day, one thing comics can't do is tell you how good the food is. For that, you'll have to come visit.

For an introduction to some of the issues facing growers in Detroit, the creators of this strip are grateful to the researcher Rachael Baker, whose work on urban agriculture and land access offered an excellent introduction to some of the concerns laid out in this strip.

Digging In

Digging In

ENDNOTES:

  1. The Pink Flamingo menu is posted to its Facebook page. Accessed January 9, 2018: https://www.facebook.com/pinkflamingodetroit/
  2. Personal interview with Meiko Krishok, conducted on December 6, 2017.
  3. Loveland Technologies, http://makeloveland.com.
  4. "Testing Garden Soil," Keep Growing Detroit, April 19, 2017.
  5. "Digging Deep: Detroiters work to clean up city's toxic soil." Nina Ignaczak, Model D Media, December 12, 2016. Accessed January 9, 2018: http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/digging-deep-soil-121216.aspx
Categories: News

Net Neutrality Bill Gains Enough Support to Force Floor Vote, but 17 Senate Democrats Still Uncommitted

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 15:01

 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communication Commission building to protest against the end of net neutrality rules, December 14, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Open internet defenders in the Senate reached an "important milestone" on Monday when Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced she will co-sponsor legislation that, if passed, would overturn FCC chair Ajit Pai's "corrupt and illegitimate" order to kill net neutrality.

McCaskill's support gives the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) the 30 votes necessary to force a vote on the Senate floor. The CRA gives Congress the power to pass a "resolution of disapproval" to nullify new regulations within a 60-day window.

Passage of a CRA would "repeal Pai's repeal," explains Dana Floberg of Free Press, which would leave the web "right back where [it] started -- with strong net neutrality rules."

McCaskill's announcement -- which was shortly followed by Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) own declaration of support for Markey's bill -- was applauded by internet freedom advocates, who concluded that every other lawmaker should get on board or face serious electoral consequences.

"Internet users are angry, educated, and organized. We refuse to back down. Net neutrality is too important to the future of our democracy," Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement on Monday. "Today's news shows that lawmakers from both parties cannot hide from their constituents on this issue. Every member of the US Senate will have to go on the record, during a tight election year, and either vote to save the Internet or rubber stamp its death warrant."

As Common Dreams reported last week, more than a dozen Democratic senators have thus far failed to go on the record.

With McCaskill and Booker co-sponsoring Markey's resolution, that leaves 17 Senate Democrats -- along with Angus King (I-Maine) -- who have yet to make a commitment to defend net neutrality (see list below).

In a statement following McCaskill's announcement, Matt Wood, policy director of the Free Press Action Fund, urged Senate holdouts to listen closely to the Americans who have "logged more than a million calls to Congress to reject FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's decision to kill net neutrality."

"Supporting net neutrality should be a no-brainer for members of Congress, whose constituents from across the political spectrum are united in their opposition to the Trump FCC's attack on the open internet," Wood added. "More and more lawmakers are recognizing this truth, helped along by the forceful outcry from the people they represent."

If every Democrat signs on, Markey's legislation will still need the support of two Republicans in the Senate and around 20 Republicans in the House to pass.

In addition to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), what follows is an updated list of the Democratic senators who have yet to support Markey's bill:

Tom Carper (D-Del.)
Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Chris Coons (D-Del.)
Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)
Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
Doug Jones (D-Ala.)
Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
Tina Smith (D-Minn.)
Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
Mark Warner (D-Va.)

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Categories: News

When Intelligence Agencies Make Backroom Deals With the Media, Democracy Loses

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 14:24

Members of the dominant media may portray themselves as defenders of the public interest who relentlessly scrutinize those in power, but there are long-standing backchannels between Capitol Hill reporters and shadowy government agencies that remain unseen. Recent revelations from former New York Times reporter James Risen show that secret deals between spies and publishers that shape the media narrative did not end after the 1960s and '70s.

 DNY59 / E+ / Getty Images)Longstanding backchannels remain unseen. (Photo: DNY59 / E+ / Getty Images)

Steven Spielberg's new movie The Post presents the story behind Katharine Graham's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. As the closing credits roll, one is left with the impression of a publisher who adopts an adversarial stance towards powerful government officials. Despite the director's $50 million budget (or, perhaps, because of it), there are crucial details that are swept under the rug -- details that might lead viewers towards a more accurate understanding of the relationship between the mainstream corporate press and the government.

The public record offers some clarity. Three years after Graham decided to go public with the Pentagon Papers, Seymour Hersh revealed a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program called Operation CHAOS in The New York Times. Hersh cited inside sources who described "a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon Administration against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States." Hersh's article on CIA domestic operations is pertinent because, along with earlier revelations by Christopher Pyle, it prompted the formation of the Church Commission.

The Church Commission was chartered to examine abuses by United States intelligence agencies. In 1976, the commission's final report (page 455 of Book I, entitled "Foreign and Military Intelligence") found that the CIA maintained "a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda" and that "approximately 50 of the [Agency] assets are individual American journalists or employees of US media organizations."  

These initial findings were further corroborated by Carl Bernstein, who unearthed a web of "more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency." Note that Bernstein was one of the Washington Post journalists who helped to expose the Watergate scandal. He published his piece on the CIA and the media with Rolling Stone magazine in 1977.

So who exactly were these media collaborators? A declassified memo from 1965 offers a clue. In particular, the memo lists a series of journalists and publishers that periodically spoke with Ray Cline, then deputy director of the Directorate of Intelligence for the CIA. These were individuals who were picked in an effort to allow Cline to serve as a "source of information" in order to "benefit the general rapport of the agency" with the press. Guess whose name is included on this list? Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post and Newsweek. 

According to former New York Times journalist James Risen, ongoing stealthy arrangements serve a purpose. Risen indicates that officials are "regularly engaged in quiet negotiations with the press to try to stop the publication of sensitive national security stories." To do so, they need to offer incentives. Hence, in exchange for being granted veto power, these same officials soft-pedal leak investigations so that insiders can provide juicy bits of classified data to the press on a steady basis. The big-name publishers are able to create the kind of headlines that attract eyeballs, and shadowy government agencies acquire leverage to quash certain stories. Risen was on the receiving end of this dynamic for years. Publishers boost sales, spies frame the narrative to suit their purposes and honest journalists suffer. Insiders win, democracy loses.   

But it gets worse. It's not just certain news outlets that have been compromised. Infiltration and subversion are techniques that have been refined to high art over the decades by the spy masters in Langley. Back in 1967, Ramparts magazine revealed that the CIA had been covertly funding the National Student Association. As Hugh Wilford's extensive research demonstrates, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA's "mighty Wurlitzer," as the agency's covert propaganda apparatus was referred to internally, covered a broad range of front groups that spanned society.

To think that all of this simply vanished in the late 1960s is a dubious proposition. Consider that when President Reagan signed Executive Order 12333 in 1981, the definition of special activities (i.e. clandestine operations) changed.  The original definition of special activities was (emphasis added): "Activities conducted abroad in support of national foreign policy objectives which are planned and executed so that the role of the United States Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly." 

In 1981 the definition of special activities became: "Activities conducted in support of national foreign policy objectives abroad which are planned and executed so that the role of the United States Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly." 

In other words, as things stand now, domestic operations are fair game. In light of this, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that while the large agenda-setting members of the corporate media portray themselves as defenders of the public interest who relentlessly scrutinize those in power, there are long-standing backchannels that remain unseen. Far from being opponents of the political class, media figures are often their close partners.     

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Categories: News

World Health Organization Says CBD Is Safe, With No Potential for Abuse

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 14:11

A division of the World Health Organization declared CBD oil to be safe, with many potential benefits, and recommended that it should remain fully legal.

The recommendations came in a report from the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), which advises the global body on how to handle various substances that could be addictive or otherwise harmful.

The authors were unambiguous about their assessment: "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential."

The report also outlines numerous potential benefits of CBD, though the authors emphasized that more research is needed. The findings are an important sign of the shift in attitudes toward this beneficial extract, which thousands of people use regularly. It also places WHO policy at odds with that of the United States: last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued frightening statements insisting that CBD remains illegal.

CBD oil is a nutritional supplement made from agricultural hemp, a close relative of psychoactive cannabis, or marijuana, the substance that people consume to feel high. By contrast, while CBD causes few if any side effects, a growing body of evidence suggests it could help conditions ranging from depression to some forms of chronic pain. The hemp industry has promised to fight the DEA in court, if necessary, and so far individual consumers haven't faced legal trouble as a result of buying CBD-only products.

As we'll explain below, we believe the latest findings from the WHO could be an important part of changing how CBD is treated, worldwide.

WHO: "CBD Is Not Associated Wwith Abuse" but Has Great Healing Potential

The ECDD's report was actually published in November, but received renewed attention from policy makers and in the media after the Dec. 13 publication of a set of the committee's recommendations for various narcotic substances. The committee raised a serious alarm about the risks posed by carfentanil, a dangerous synthetic opioid similar to the notorious fentanyl, but their response to CBD was sharply different.

While the ECDD wants to see the strictest possible controls put on carfentanil and other synthetic opioids, they argued that CBD should remain totally legal and recommended further investigation of its potential benefits.

"The ECDD therefore concluded that current information does not justify scheduling of cannabidiol and postponed a fuller review of cannabidiol preparations to May 2018, when the committee will undertake a comprehensive review of cannabis and cannabis related substances," the WHO reported.

The ECCD's report on CBD goes even further, both in suggesting that CBD is safe for human consumption and that CBD has many potential benefits that deserve deeper research.

"CBD is not associated with abuse potential," the authors wrote. They also reported that numerous studies have found that CBD is nontoxic with few side effects. Preliminary research, they noted, even suggests that CBD "has no effect on embryonic development."  

Just as importantly, the report acknowledges the growing body of scientific evidence which suggests CBD has great healing potential. "The clinical use of CBD is most advanced in the treatment of epilepsy."

Many epilepsy sufferers, including children with forms of epilepsy that are difficult to treat through conventional means, have discovered that CBD can offer sometimes significant relief to their symptoms.

"There is also evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions," noted the ECCD. "However, this research is considerably less advanced than for treatment of epilepsy."

Additionally, the "diverse" range of conditions for which CBD has been considered by scientists as a possible treatment is "consistent with its neuroprotective, antiepileptic, hypoxia-ischemia [controlling the flow of oxygen], anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic [pain relieving], anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic and anti-tumor properties."

The authors add that CBD might even help with tobacco and other forms of drug addiction. The report also includes a rather remarkable chart outlining all of CBD's potential benefits:

WHO CBD Potential Benefits ReportExpert Committee on Drug Dependence Report on potential CBD benefits. WHO Report on CBD Can Lead the Way to Better Global Drug Policies

The ECCD's primary role is to advise the WHO and its member governments (including the US) about how to handle mind-altering substances. Based on their recommendations, drugs are "scheduled," or listed in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a 1961 international agreement that determines which drugs are illegal, and which are considered to have medical benefits despite their risks.

By recommending that CBD oil remain unscheduled, the ECCD sends a powerful message to the global community that CBD should be legal. While stopping short of openly recommending the use of CBD, the WHO also clearly expressed the need for more investigation into CBD and other similar "cannabinoid" substances.

It's not the only recent sign of thawing international attitudes toward CBD. As previously reported by Ministry of Hemp, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets global policy for substance use in sports, will allow athletes to use CBD starting in 2018.

Meanwhile, in the US, the debate rages on between hemp advocates who say CBD is both legal and beneficial and government officials who insist it is, and should remain, a "Schedule I" substance -- in other words, an illegal drug deemed to have no medical benefit whatsoever.

We believe there's every reason to hope that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence about the benefits of CBD, and the support of influential bodies like the WHO, will eventually force the United States to reevaluate its stance too. Thanks to the ECCD and so many passionate advocates for legalization, It's only a matter of time before CBD, and cannabis in all its forms, are fully embraced as a miraculous gift to humanity.

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Categories: News

Trump's Offshore Drilling Plan Flouts Law by Ignoring Governors' Wishes

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 14:10
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The Trump administration unveiled its draft five-year plan for offshore drilling last week to replace the Obama administration plan that went into effect last year. Trump is proposing to open to oil and gas development vast untouched areas of coastal waters including the Atlantic and the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- part of his administration's stated quest to make the US the world's "strongest energy superpower."

How vast is the area targeted for drilling? While the current federal offshore drilling program crafted by the Obama administration bars leasing to private drilling companies in 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, the Trump plan would open more than 90 percent of the OCS to potential future oil and gas development. It proposes 19 lease sales off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic (three each for the Mid- and South Atlantic, two for the North Atlantic, and one for the Straits of Florida), and seven in the Pacific.

Among the areas now being considered for drilling are the waters off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina -- even though governors of those states have expressed opposition amid widespread concern about the impacts in coastal communities.

As the Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out:

The Trump administration's proposal defies formal requests from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe that their states be omitted from the five-year plan. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam have also voiced opposition to seismic testing and offshore drilling.

The administration of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper submitted formal comments to federal regulators in July opposing offshore seismic testing for oil and gas reserves, the first step toward drilling. At that time Cooper also stated his opposition to offshore drilling, saying that it would pose unacceptable risks to the economy, environment, and coastal communities.

Then in August, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) asking that his state be excluded from the five-year drilling plan. And though he didn't submit formal comments, Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina announced his opposition last summer to both offshore seismic testing and drilling.

Cooper and McAuliffe are Democrats while McMaster is a pro-Trump Republican. Opposition to offshore drilling has been particularly strong in the Carolinas, where more than 50 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing and/or offshore drilling.

Governors Ready for a Fight

Listening to governors when drawing up a five-year offshore drilling plan is not merely a matter of courtesy: Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, it's the law.

The section of the act laying out the principles that are supposed to guide the federal offshore drilling program says that granting of leases in the OCS shall be based on consideration of eight factors, including

laws, goals, and policies of affected States which have been specifically identified by the Governors of such States as relevant matters for the Secretary's consider­ation … .

The Obama administration's five-year plan for the 2017-2022 period initially proposed leases in the waters off Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where the governors at the time specifically requested inclusion in the plan. But it excluded states like Florida where political leaders strongly oppose drilling. The Southeastern states were eventually dropped from the final plan after the public comment process revealed widespread opposition in the coastal communities that would be most directly affected.

However, the Trump administration -- which has received generous financial support from the fossil-fuel industry -- was eager to scrap the Obama plan for a more aggressive one.

Back in early April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that President Trump would issue an executive order amending the plan by expanding offshore drilling to areas now off limits, including the Atlantic. Zinke made the announcement at a closed-door meeting of the National Ocean Industries Association, an influential lobbying group that represents the offshore drilling industry. Trump signed the order on April 28.

Then in July, the administration published a notice in the Federal Register seeking information from coastal and other stakeholders to develop a new five-year plan. That kicked off the process that led to last week's proposal. There will now be another multi-year comment process leading to a final plan. At the same time, the administration is seeking to roll back regulations adopted in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster off the Louisiana coast.

In unveiling the new proposal, Zinke acknowledged that some areas included at the outset might not in fact be suitable for oil and gas development. "Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period," he said. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks."

Since Zinke's announcement, a number of governors have said that they intend to fight to keep drilling rigs away from their coasts. For example, Gov. Cooper released a statement saying that his administration would "pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina's beaches, coastal communities, and fishing waters."

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott (R) of Florida said he has asked to "immediately" meet with Zinke to discuss his concerns about the plan and what he called "the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration."

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